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Erwin Rommel – opinions on the person and his role in the Third Reich continue to be divided. Rommel, the field marshal general of the Wehrmacht, as the armed forces in Nazi Germany were called, was born in the city of Heidenheim in southern Germany. Some see him as an apolitical “mere soldier”, who was simply trying to fulfil his duties, and to this end, possibly sympathized with the resistance to Hitler; others do not see adequate evidence for such a view and point to his role as a compliant instrument of National Socialist wrongs.

When veterans of the Wehrmacht had the monument to Rommel erected in Heidenheim in 1961, they added statements in accordance with their own times, statements which are hardly compatible with the knowledge we now have of Rommel and his world. Today we take offence at the existence of hundreds of thousands of landmines, most of which Field Marshal General Rommel had planted in Libya and Egypt during the war against Great Britain. These mines continue to kill and maim.

With the new face of the memorial it becomes evident that every new generation creates its own picture of the past. The city of Heidenheim promotes the initiative for this addition to the Rommel monument in order to take a stand against war, militarism and extremism.


Lecture

Prof. Emeritus Dr. Wolfram Wette

Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg i.Breisgau, Historical Seminar, on
"Rommel, Hitler’s favourite general, and our democratic culture of remembrance“

Monuments and counter-monuments contribute to the politics of history. They do not merely illustrate past events, but also give meaning to the present and the future. Professor Wette shows how Nazi propaganda made a war hero of General Erwin Rommel, at the same time making him the most famous son of the city of Heidenheim. After the war, the deceased general was again used to develop the legend of the “clean” Wehrmacht. The destruction of this legend means that the elevation of Rommel to hero status, as documented by the monumental memorial of 1961, is no longer tenable. The sculpture of the one-legged landmine victim on crutches, created by the artist Rainer Jooss, symbolizes both the victims of war and the opposition to war, which is an essential element of our democratic culture of remembrance.


English translation of the lecture – PDF

Erwin Rommel and his place in the tradition of the German armed forces today
Academic services of the Bundestag, the German federal parliament; Status WD 2 - 3000 - 005/19; page 19 - Erwin Rommel and his place in the tradition of the German armed forces today.

„...as of yet, historical research has provided no evidence for active behaviour in the resistance on the part of Rommel.“


memorial

facts

ascent

lateral thinkers

instrument

idol

myth

commemorate

context

Rommel in nine pictograms


Rommel in nine pictograms

1. Remembering Rommel

Some people say: Rommel has been and will continue to be a role model for future generations. His deep sense of duty and his proven efficiency make him an icon of manful behaviour. Others object saying: Rommel was a careerist who served the “Third Reich”. Wherever he was in action, he showed merciless efficiency, at least at the beginning, in the interest of those to whom he was responsible. From this perspective, they see no reason to commemorate him.


Rommel in nine pictograms

2. Facts

Approaching Rommel on the basis of facts and reliable sources

To this day one can hear touching stories in Heidenheim about this son of the city, stories praising his chivalrous and comradely behaviour. Few people seek clarification among the sources in the archives, which are now accessible. These sources generally speak a different language. If the written evidence were included in the tales about Rommel, a fact-based picture of Rommel would become acceptable to the public in the long run.


Rommel in nine pictograms

3. Rommel, upwardly mobile

Thanks to his loyalty to Adolf Hitler, which continued unbroken until at least 1944, Rommel was promoted seven times in the National Socialist era, sometimes without the approval of his immediate superiors. Hitler supported and protected Rommel in his ascent from the rank of a simple officer to that of a field marshal general. Even at the time of his forced suicide Rommel obeyed his Führer and sponsor devotedly.


Rommel in nine pictograms

4. Rommel, the military maverick

Rommel never had classical training as a commanding officer. Self-educated in many of his activities, he was unpredictable and innovative in military tactics. His supporters laud his originality and daring, whereas his critics point to his ruthless expenditure of human life.


Rommel in nine pictograms

5. Rommel, the instrument

Rommel’s opportunism made him blind to the criminal goals and practices of the Nazi regime. His unquestioning zeal, which might also be interpreted as indifference, made him Hitler’s “favourite” general when it was a matter of using the Wehrmacht as a tool for the National Socialist politics of conquest.


Rommel in nine pictograms

6. Rommel, the idol

When the war took an unfavourable turn for the German Reich, Nazi propaganda began to elevate Rommel to the status of hero, a veritable superman. He was covered with medals and given the highest honours – attentions which he accepted gladly. With such a hero at the helm, the war and its consequences seemed more bearable for the masses.


Rommel in nine pictograms

7. Rommel, the myth

Joseph Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda created memorable legends for the “Rommel myth”, which militarists from all over the world still make use of. The legends were later adapted and re-adapted to the Zeitgeist. An example is the assertion that Rommel was sympathetic to the resistance to Hitler in the summer of 1944, which was deduced from a few secondary sources.


Rommel in nine pictograms

8. Putting Rommel in context

It is notable that many commentaries on Rommel still focus on his supposed character traits without considering the context of his actions. For a realistic picture of Rommel, more light should be cast on his involvement in the National Socialist state. His actual deeds are more relevant than possible intentions.


Rommel in nine pictograms

9. Remembering Rommel realistically

The monument to Rommel, as it was erected by veterans of his troops, does not correspond to a serious historical commemoration in the present age. It has historical significance as a monument of a time past, but it leaves the observer with a feeling of bewilderment and incomplete information. The figure of a landmine victim created by Rainer Jooss is an appropriate and expressive complement to the original memorial created by Franklin Pühn.


Description of the original memorial

The memorial comprises an arc with a diameter of 35m, one quarter of which is bordered by a low wall. At the end of the arc there is a monolith of shell limestone bearing Rommel’s full name and rank on the front side. In the centre of the arc is a beech tree which is at least 100 years old.

On the back of the ashlar is a depiction in relief of the northern coast of Libya and Egypt with the reference “Tobruk 21. 6. 1942”. Further inscriptions are: “Erwin Rommel, *15.11. 1891 Heidenheim, †14.10. 1944 Herrlingen, Von seinen Afrikanern” “Aufrecht, ritterlich und tapfer, bis zu seinem Tode als Opfer der Gewaltherrschaft (“From his Africans”) (“Upright, chivalrous and brave up to his death as a victim of tyranny”) On the sides of the ashlar are the following inscriptions: “Monte Matajur, 26.10.1917”

“Diese Gedenkstätte errichtete der Verband Deutsches Afrikakorps e.V. Sein Vorsitzender, General der Kavallerie a.D. Siegfried Westphal übergab sie am 12. November 1961 zum 70. Geburtstag des Feldmarschalls in die Obhut von dessen Vaterstadt Heidenheim a.d. Brenz.”

(“This memorial was erected by the organization ‘Deutsches Afrikakorps e.V.’, whose chairman, retired General of the Cavalry Siegfried Westphal, entrusted it to the care of Erwin Rommel’s hometown Heidenheim an der Brenz, on the occasion of the 70th birthday of the Field Marshal General.”)

A small memorial stone at the rear of the monument bears the inscription: “Ehre dem Andenken aller in Nordafrika Gefallenen”. (“In honour of the memory of all those killed in action in North Africa”)



What is here?

What was here?

What remains?

The shadow sculpture, the historical commentary of Professor Wolfram Wette, and this website have modified the original memorial to create an experiential space in which the past, present, and future as regards Rommel can be explored.

  • The vertical silhouette of a landmine victim, made of steel, underlines the relevance of past wars and confronts the monumentality of the original memorial.
  • According to the position of the sun, the natural shadow of the vertical sculpture falls on the original monument and questions the former meaning of the monument.
  • The steel shadow on the ground faces the observer and challenges his preconceptions.

This website is meant to serve as an aid to understanding and research. It provides the interregional and international public with a sense as to where historical research stands at present. Moreover, it allows for the addition of relevant research findings in the years to come.


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